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January 29

“I will give them one heart, and put a new spirit within them.”  Ezekial 11:19

“If anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation:  everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new!”  2 Corinthians 5:17

Even as a child it felt good to have something new … a new dress or new shoes.  The feeling doesn’t change as we grow older but the wants become bigger … a new phone, a new car, a new(er) house.  We might settle for new cupboards and fixtures, new floor, fresh paint … “Looks just like new!”

People don’t want to appear old or out of date so some “remodel” themselves, keep looking spiffy … a new hairdo or color, new nose, body shaping .  We are fortunate to live at a time when we can be rid of old pains with new hips and knees; when failing kidneys and hearts can be replaced – used parts in a new home. 

Our hearts may be broken and our spirits in shambles but God always sees “fixer uppers”.  Christ moves in, refreshes and transforms us, and we are a new creation.  Then God gives us a new heart awash in God’s love, renewed strength to love in return, and new eyes to see.

We talk about the good “old” days when our church was “new” and growing.  Our community was new and growing and all those new people moving in needed a place to worship.  Neighborhood houses may now be aging but many of our neighbors are new and so are the challenges – and responsibilities – we,  as Christians, face to welcome them with kindness and hospitality.

New clothes, new parts … our bodies will wear out and fade away.  Even then, God is at work, inspiring John to write in Revelation, “… the first things have passed away … See, I am making all things new.”

“Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me … Restore unto me the joy of your salvation and uphold me with your free spirit.”  Amen

Verla Olson



January 26

Isaiah 41:9 – I took you from the ends of the earth, from its farthest corners I called you. I said, ‘You are my servant’; I have chosen you and have not rejected you.
 
Romans 11:29 – For God’s gifts and his call are irrevocable.
 
 
Yet another person who has inspired me and changed my life has passed away and has continued to inspire me even in their death. I do believe that anyone who met Pastor Milo Engelstad was inspired by him, whether they were of Christian faith, another religion, or not at all. He was just that kind of person, and as was said of him by many at his funeral service, “He was a very nice person.”
 
One of the things I learned about Pastor Milo at the service in his memory was that one of his favorite Psalms was 121, which begins I lift up my eyes to the hills. From where does my help come?
 
That got me thinking, and again, looking at the various interpretations of the Bibles available online (and I can’t recommend enough the things you’ll find about your own favorite verses by checking out another version), I found a lot of ways of looking at the words of the Psalms.
 
For example, my first thought was to think of it as looking up to God for help by literally looking up at the hills, asking him to come down and help with whatever the current problem might be. Don’t we often refer to spiritual moments in our lives as “mountaintop experiences”? In Matthew 17, Jesus takes Peter and James and John with him up the mountain, And he was there transfigured before them, and his face shone like the sun and his clothes became dazzling white. Peter promptly tells him how good it is to be there and wants to built houses for Jesus, Moses and Elijah and has to be reminded to come back down. Clearly, the mountaintop is meant to be a special place, and the place to look for help from above.
 
Another interpretation could be the hills in the verse imagined as stumbling blocks in our path, like illness, physical or mental, a loss of job, family problems, or any number of things that make our life difficult or painful. We raise our eyes reluctantly to these problems, wondering how we can possibly overcome something so large that stands in our path. Sometimes what feels like a giant mountain to us might appear to others to hardly be a slight incline in comparison to their own problems. But our Lord knows better what our struggles are, and what’s more, he cares about us and helps us through the places that seem impassable.  Isaiah 40:4 tells us, Let every valley be lifted up, And every mountain and hill be made low; And let the rough ground become a plain, And the rugged terrain a broad valley.
 
God also sends people to help us along our way. As I think back on Pastor Engelstad’s funeral, I remember the story of how he and his wife traveled to North Dakota just days after he was ordained and they were married (on the same day). I can imagine him lifting his eyes to the sky along the way as their borrowed car broke down on the way, they got lost trying to find his new church, and then finding out that it had burned down the night before and that their new home hadn’t been finished yet. But someone stopped to get the car working again. And people in their new town took them in until the parsonage could be completed, and the church was rebuilt. God’s hand was in all of those things.
 
Heavenly father, thank you for your love as you lead us over the rough places in life, and for putting people in our paths to walk with us, to lead us and for us to lead. In your holy name we pray, Amen.
 
 
Lynda Tysdal


January 25

Do not withhold good from those to whom it is due, when it is in your power to do it. Proverbs 3:27

How does God’s love abide in anyone who has the world’s goods and sees a brother or sister in need and yet refuses help?
1 John 3:17

God is the ultimate giver and has shown each one of us what we need to do to be good stewards of all that is given to us. He gave more than any of us could have imagined when he sacrificed his only son to grant us eternal life.

We have nothing that is completely ours. Someone gave or somewhere or somehow we received what we have. Maybe you have very little in material wealth, but you may have time to call a friend in need or to spend time with someone who is ill and lonely. How about the letter or card that someone in your life would love to receive? Whether we have much or little we have access to prayer. We can lift up those in our lives and in our minds to God; we do not know the positive effects the gift of a prayer from the heart in someone’s name can have.

Many are blessed with more than they need. The gifts granted by these people of vision are beyond our imaginations. Grants, to support food shelves, scholarships, free clothing shops, community services, etc. are just a few examples. Many who are so moved to give do not share their names or what they do, but our citizens are blessed by such gifts.

We know of those who are not so moved to give, but we are all blessed by the gifts of those who respond with generosity to those in need. Needs are always there. Thank God for those who share with and serve others.

The text of “Lord, Whose Love in Humble Service” by Albert F. Bayly says it well.

Lord, whose love in humble service Bore the weight of human need,

Who upon the cross, forsaken, Worked your mercy’s perfect deed:

We, your servants, bring the worship Not of voice alone, but heart;

Consecrating to your purpose Every gift which you impart.

 

Still your children wander homeless; Still the hungry cry for bread;

Still the captives long for freedom; Still in grief we mourn our dead.

As you, Lord, in deep compassion Healed at the sick and freed the soul,

By your Spirit send your power To our world to make it whole.

 

As we worship, grant us vision, Till your love’s revealing light

In its height and depth and greatness Dawns upon our quickened sight,

Making known the needs and burdens your compassion bids us bear,

Stirring us to ardent service, your abundant life to share. 

Dear Lord and Savior,

Thank you for sharing your loving goodness with each one of us. Show us where our generosity is needed and help us to share abundantly and with love. Amen.

Florence Smallfield



January 24

Help, O Lord, for there is no longer anyone who is godly; the faithful have disappeared from humankind. Psalm 12:1 

Devote yourselves to prayer, being watchful and thankful. Pray for us that God will open to us a door for the word, that we may declare the mystery of Christ. Colossians 4:2-3 

What a simple prayer the Psalm starts out with: Help O Lord. It is short and useful for many occasions, since we often think we are too busy to take the time to pray. It is especially useful when things aren’t going well, and just like the psalmist we may feel that there is no one left who is faithful and godly. For those times when we look around and despair at the situation in the world when the faithful seem to have disappeared. Perhaps he felt that there was no one whom he could trust; verse two goes on to say that everyone lies to his neighbor and their “flattering lips speak with deception.” Like many of the Psalms, after starting out with this somewhat depressing assessment, the writer goes on to say how the Lord will arise and help those who are weak and needy, those whom He has heard. 

Prayer allows us to speak to God, to communicate about our needs and the needs of others we see around us. Taking time to to pray, rather, making time to pray, and then quietly meditating and listening for a response, work well in these times or in times of happiness, or just general life. Paul tells us to pray and actually devote ourselves to it. Nothing wrong with a short “help Lord” but taking some more time daily is beneficial. Paul is writing this while confined, and note that his request for prayer is not that he be freed, but rather that God will open a door for spreading the Good News about Jesus.

To quote from a commentary:  “In addition to praying for themselves, Paul asks the Colossian Christians to pray for him and those with him. Paul was honest about his need for prayer, especially since he was bound under house arrest at the time. It’s interesting to note that Paul does not specifically ask the Christians of Colossae to pray for his freedom. Instead, he asks them to petition God for opportunities to share the gospel.” 

Our prayers can range from the very simple and desperate to longer well-thought out and planned prayers and everything in between. Having just attended the service for Pastor Milo Engelstad, I am reminded of something my father once said, something like, he really knows how to pray, doesn’t he.  Dad was impressed with Pastor Milo’s prayers. But God doesn’t care how eloquent or fancy our prayers are. He has given us the opportunity to speak to Him at any time, at all times. What a good prayer Paul suggests, that we pray for believers to have the words to spread the Word, and yes to occasionally just pray “help me Lord.” 

O Christ, your mystery is the love you have that we all desperately need. Open opportunities for us to demonstrate your love with kindly deeds. Give us confidence to live your love boldly. Help us to love those whom I find hard to love. After all, you love me and I am not always lovable. Thank you for your unconditional love. We can speak of your love, O God, but if we do not act in love, our words are all for naught. Strengthen us so that our actions witness to the words of praise that we speak. In Jesus’ name we pray. Amen 

Chris Gabel



January 23

You have multiplied, O Lord my God, your wondrous deeds and your thoughts towards us; none can compare with you. Psalm 40:5

They were amazed, saying, “What sort of man is this, that even the winds and the sea obey him?” Matthew 8:27

Do you believe in miracles? Did Jesus really heal the sick and raise the dead? Did he really walk on water? Did he really turn water into wine? Does God perform miracles today?

If you say you don’t believe in miracles, you’re not alone. Several years ago, Time magazine conducted a poll. 69% of the people asked said yes, they believed in miracles. That means 31%, or about one out of three, said they didn’t believe in miracles.

There is the traditional view, that the miracles of the Bible are just that – miracles. In the words of Webster, miracles are “extraordinary events manifesting divine intervention in human affairs.” Those who hold this view accept the miracles of the Bible without explanation or proof and believe that miracles still happen today.

There is little correlation, however, between the miracles of Jesus and the people involved in them. This is hard for us to accept. We’d like to think, for example, that Jesus healed those who were righteous or who had exhibited strong faith – those who, somehow, deserved it. We like to remember the stories where Jesus said, “Your faith has made you well. Go in peace.” (Luke 8:48)

But this is not always the case. For example, Jesus healed a man paralyzed from birth. He was brought before Jesus on a stretcher and lowered down through the roof! But, it was the faith of the friends who carried the man to Jesus, not the paralytic, that prompted the miracle.

In the story about the widow’s son, neither the dead man nor his mother demonstrated faith or asked Jesus to do anything. Jesus raised the man from the dead simply because he had compassion for his mother

As often as not, there’s no cause-effect relationship between faith and miracles. And, personally, I’m comfortable with that. It concerns me to think that the degree of our faith or righteousness is the deciding factor in whether or not God will be merciful. And, frankly, it offends me to think that those who are healed are more deserving than those who are not.

People pray for miracles every day, asking God to heal them or a loved one. But their loved ones die. On the one hand, you could say their prayers weren’t heard. Or that God said no. I prefer to think there’s a bigger picture than this, one we can never fully comprehend or explain. And in this bigger picture of life, we see that God is faithful, even though there are questions we’ll never be able to answer and ambiguities we can never explain.

And maybe, just maybe, praying for a miracle, even when it doesn’t turn out the way you wanted, can open up a whole new dimension of God’s grace and love.

It might help to remember that healing and wholeness and salvation are first cousins. They’re closely related. To be healed is to be made whole, and to be made whole is to be saved. God doesn’t heal the body apart from the mind and the soul. What would be the point of having a healthy mind, if you didn’t know the love of God? Or a healthy body if you weren’t willing to serve others to the glory of his name?

Maybe, for the most part, the miracles of Jesus have to do with restoring those bodily functions that, when they’re not working, impede our relationship to God: He opened the eyes of the blind in order that they might see God’s glory; he unstopped the ears of the deaf in order that they might hear God’s Word; he loosened the tongues of the mute, mmute,in order that they might sing God’s praise; he made the lame to walk in order that they might walk in newness of life. The nature of the miracles is that they remove the obstacles separating us from God.

I believe in miracles. I believe God can heal the sick and raise the dead; but most of all, I believe God is at work in every aspect of our lives, pouring out his love for us, revealing his majesty and inviting us into a closer relationship with Jesus Christ. In the words of a song,

“I believe for every drop of rain that falls, a flower grows;

I believe that somewhere in the darkest night, a candle glows;

I believe for everyone who goes astray, someone will come to show the way;

I believe above the storm the smallest prayer will still be heard;

I believe that Someone in the great somewhere hears every word;

Every time I hear a newborn baby cry, or touch a leaf, or see the sky,

Then I know why, I believe.” (Ervin Drake, et. al.)

Lord, we are in awe of the many wondrous miracles you have performed. Your greatness cannot be equaled. At your command all Creation will obey. Help us to hear and obey your Word today by sharing with others the amazing news of your gracious power in our lives. Amen.

Peace,

Susan Hanson



January 22

By this everyone will know you are my disciples, if you have love for one another. John 13:35

People have a lot of opinions about religion and the people who participate in it.  

Very little of it is positive.

I think most common opinions are that people who go to Church are hypocrites, close minded and often exclusive.   There are many others as well but not many of them seem to be of the variety of “Wow!  That person is alright, part of it must be because God plays a role in their value system!”  Yeah… I don’t think any of us have heard that.

So that’s fun to think about.

That being said, do you ever wonder what people think about you and your religion? Do you think your friends know about your relationship with God and some of the ways you show or live your Faith?  It doesn’t really matter I guess but I think about it.  I hope none of my friends (or your friends) think of us as hypocrites, exclusive or close minded when it comes to the bigger view of life.

I say this because I generally wish more people had relationships with God – more than just believing there is “something out there.”   I don’t want them to miss out.  Does that make sense? I want them to know that knowing God is hugely helpful.  The expression God’s peace is not simply two words.  I want them to know that going to Church isn’t about pretending you are perfect, it is about admitting that you aren’t and being loved anyway.   Being a Christian includes being grateful and gracious for where you are and what you have not for what you don’t have.  Obviously there are many more reasons and a lot less selfish ones too.  

Honestly, I know we aren’t always good examples or emissaries of God.   We forget, we get petty, we make mistakes.  But even on the days we whiff at being a Christian God loves us anyway, every day.   I don’t know about you, but that perpetual “always in my corner” relationship with God is pretty awesome when I think about it.

At one point in my life, I probably would have tried to explain away being a Christian.  Tried to back away from it probably.  Sometimes we are not comfortable in our skin.   But age has a way of correcting that for most of us.

I write this because I hope we live our Christian values and hope that those who interact with us can see how our Faith in us and hopefully give it some thought for themselves.  I know that we can all do more to show we our disciples of Christ, but we need to pick our spots after all if the audience isn’t listening, they are not going to hear.   Sometimes simply being ourselves is the best way to get people to listen even if they don’t say it.

God, thank you for loving me and welcoming me inspite of myself.  Thank you for being there on the days I remember you and the days I forget you.

Al Rivers



January 19

The promises of the Lord are promises that are pure, silver refined in a furnace on the ground, purified seven times.  Psalm 12:6
 
You will shine among them like stars in the sky as you hold firmly to the word of life. Philippians 2: 15-16 (NIV)
 
Psalm 139 keeps showing up in my life lately — when I sang with my group recently for the funeral of one of our members emeritus, it was on the back of the bulletin, listed as one of her favorite of the Psalms. When flipping through my Bible while looking up other verses to read, it wants to open to that chapter and verse. And now today, at the Sunday service, it was the Psalm that we read responsively as a congregation. Clearly this was something I was meant to take a closer look at, and hope to continue to.
 
My friend from the singing group, Carol, was a very special friend, and I’ll miss her, though I didn’t get to see her as much once she’d retired from the Blue Moon Singers, but I feel that she taught me a lot about friendship, faithfulness, and sharing the love of God by the life she lived and the example she showed. She was the kind of friend to whom and of whom I have often expressed amazement — as another special friend in my life has said “You know me so well — and you like me anyway!”
 
Even in death, she taught me something new. The verses printed in her funeral bulletin came from a version of the Bible that I’d never heard of, The Message, and I found it easier to understand and to absorb the meaning of the words in a different way, though as Psalm 139 points out in verse 6, Such knowledge is too wonderful for me; it is so high that I cannot attain it. (NRSV).
 
And in The Message, Psalms 139, verses 17-18 tells us something similar: Your thoughts—how rare, how beautiful! God, I’ll never comprehend them! I couldn’t even begin to count them—any more than I could count the sand of the sea. Oh, let me rise in the morning and live always with you!
 
God is too vast for us to ever fully comprehend, yet he knows each of us individually. He knows all our inner thoughts, even the things that we keep deep within our hearts, never admitting them to anyone, but what’s more is, he loves us anyway with a love that will go on forever.
 
Dear loving God, three in one, you look for us and find us when we forget to come to you as we should and long to keep our thoughts away from your all-knowing vision. Thank you for your love and forgiveness, given when we least deserve them. Remind us to step out of our own comfortable space to share your love with others as we should and to examine our own lives and thoughts to try to follow the path you have set for us.
Amen.
 
Lynda Tysdal


January 17, 2018

“They will be mine,” says the Lord of hosts, “on the day that I prepare my own possession, and I will spare them as a man spares his own son who serves him. Malachi 3:17 NASB 

To all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God. John 1:12 

Children have a special place in their parents’ hearts.  Things that may annoy other adults can look cute to their parents. Of course children do not always follow what parents want them to do, many times there is need to repeat (and repeat) and encourage them to behave. Yet, children shouldn’t have to earn their parents love; that comes with the position of being a child. Human parents do not always manage this, they lose their temper, they are inconsistent, and a few are actually abusive. However, God does a great job of being a parent. He is always there and patient and slow to anger. IN Malachi God says that on the final day He will prepare a place and will spare all of his sons (and daughters too) from whatever is happening. It must be wonderful to be a child of God. 

Wait, we are children of God! This phrase occurs several times in the Bible, along with “sons of God.” How do we get to this wonderful state of being God’s children? Does everybody get to do this? It would seem from reading in Malachi that not everyone does; in fact some that are sure they are in the favored group are going to be surprised. John writes that we get to be children of God simply by receiving Jesus Christ. In Galatians 3:26-27 it says “So in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith, for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” 

That surely sounds too simple. Here we are children of our human parents and sinful, and yet also children of God. We don’t have to earn this, carefully follow all the rules all the time, and worry about whether we are good enough. We are good enough. God created us al and said it was good. We are to accept and receive Jesus Christ, God’s son, as our savior and serve God by serving others. Yes, we all can be children of the living God. 

God of abundance, you have equipped us to love and serve all of your children. We praise you all the days of our lives; may others catch your joyous Good News from us. Through the power of your Holy Spirit, lead us to find and welcome your children who may feel excluded from your blessings. In Jesus’ name we pray. Amen. 

Chris Gabel



January 12

“The Lord God will take away the disgrace of his people from all the earth.”  Isaiah 25:8

“Rejoice in hope, be patient in suffering, persevere in prayer.”  Romans 12:12

Beginning a new year, many resolve to improve themselves in some way … abandon a bad habit, maybe try a new hobby.  To take care of the bodies we are given, to use the talents we are given … perhaps discover new ones … are worthy goals.  There was advice in the newspaper on Dec 31.  Though one writer resolved to make mistakes and not apologize; others advised to set reasonable goals and to expect and not be discouraged by failure.  We are human and imperfect – good reminder!

God loves us with all our faults … not just out of shape or overweight … but fearful, angry, impatient, unkind, addicted … These especially, we need God’s help to change.  At this time of year as we resolve to be better, we are especially reminded that God sent Jesus to shoulder our blame, but also to show us the way to live showing compassion and mercy.  The newspaper writer advised being merciful toward ourselves in our failures.  We humbly give thanks for God’s mercy toward us, and respond with mercy and understanding toward others.

This year, again, we saw “A Christmas Carol” at the Guthrie.  A once greedy, selfish, eventually repentant Scrooge vowed to keep Christmas everyday ….  to live with care and compassion for others.  He worried it might be too late.  It wasn’t too late for Scrooge in Dickens’ beloved story.  It’s not too late for us in God’s beloved story.  I like Paul’s verse written to the Romans as a resolution:  to “rejoice in hope, be patient in suffering, persevere in prayer.”  (with God’s help!)

“Wilt Thou help each one of us to keep Christmas alive in our hearts and in our homes, that it may continue to glow, to shed its warmth, to speak its message during the bleak days of winter…

May we hold to that spirit, that we may be as gentle and as kindly today as we were on Christmas Eve,

as generous tomorrow as we were on Christmas Morning.”  Amen  (prayer text by Peter Marshall)

Verla Olson



January 11

Surely he has borne our infirmities and carried our diseases; yet we accounted him stricken , struck down by God and afflicted. Isaiah 53:4
 
For our sake God made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God. 2 Corinthians 5:21
 
 
On Wednesday evening, January 6th, our church held a beautiful service in celebration of Epiphany, complete with three young men to play the three wise men, delivering gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh to Jesus in the manger at the front of the sanctuary. (Because we lacked myrrh to bring him, the congregation collected snow in containers to present him instead.) As usual, the candles in the church were lit, adding an extra glow to our surroundings.
 
Candlelight reminds me of the end of the service on Christmas Eve, when the pastors go out into the congregation with their candles lit, lighting the candles held by others, who pass the light on until everyone’s faces are illuminated by their own flickering candles.
 
When the service had ended, there was still time before choir practice started, and I lingered in the gathering space, thinking about the service and this devotion to be written. Pastor Rory passed by with a purpose to his step, clearly having tasks ahead of him, and when I greeted him asking if he needed a hand, he suggested that I could go out to the patio and extinguish the luminaries there. (For anyone unfamiliar with them, luminaries are lit candles placed in paper bags or blocks of ice, especially at Christmas.)
 
It almost seemed to be a shame to extinguish their beautiful glow in the darkness, and I remembered that I have often felt that way when putting out a candle. Such a small flame doesn’t add much heat to a space, but I feel an inner warmth when looking at it, especially in a church setting, and I finally made that connection. The glow that I feel is the love of Jesus, symbolized by the candle flame.
 
When the church service is ended and the ushers snuff out the candles, it is a sign to us to keep the light, the love of Christ, going in our hearts, carrying it out to others, to the world to be shared.
 
We are told, in reading John 8:12 that Jesus said: “I am the Light of the world; he who follows Me will not walk in the darkness, but will have the Light of life.”
 
Can we do any less but to share that light that Jesus has generously passed to us?
 
Jesus Christ, you are the light of the world, the light no darkness can overcome. Let your light scatter the darkness, and shine within your people* Thank you for sharing your light with us, please help us to overcome shyness and fear that keeps us from passing your love and light to others. May all know your love and peace, especially in this time that can be dark and cold.
Amen
 
*Holden Evening Prayer, Marty Haugen.
 
Lynda Tysdal